Friday, July 21, 2006

Falconetti


Stage actress Renee Maria Falconeti was born on this day in 1892 in Sermano, Corsica. Falconetti started as a music hall singer at Le Boeuf Sur le Toit in Paris in 1914. She established herself as a dramatic actress in Racine's Phaedre at L'Avenue, and later appeared in numerous stage productions there and at the Comedie Francaise, including La Vie d'une Feeme and Le Carnaval des Enfants.

At the height of her fame she agreed to appear (with shorn coif and no makeup) in Carl Dreyer's silent film La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc (1927), and despite the fact that she suffered at Dreyer's belligerent style of direction, the film is an acknowledged masterwork of cinema, and the only surviving showcase of Falconetti's power as an actress. Throughout much of the film, Falconetti is shot in close-up with the revealing effects of high-contrast lighting, presenting in silence one of the most intense representations of mental and physical anguish in the history of film -- as well as capturing the status of icon. As Jean Renoir noted, "That shaven head was and remains the abstraction of the whole epic of Joan of Arc."

It was Falconetti's first and last film. Afterwards, she returned to the stage and bought L'Avenue theater, but the theater flopped, leaving her financially ruined. When France was invaded by the Nazis, Falconetti fled to Switzerland, then Brazil, then Argentina, where she made a meager living in small acting and singing jobs. After World War II, she hoped to return to the Paris stage, but fearing she was overweight, she went on a crash diet and died within several days, on December 12, 1946 in Buenos Aires.

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